Recent Commonplace Entries


Missing the Point?

“I tried them on modern literature, and they laughed at Graham Greene. They couldn’t see why the hero of The Heart of the Matter had to commit suicide because he couldn’t stop committing adultery. ‘Why’, said a bright Malay girl, ‘does he not become Muslim like us and marry both women?’” (Anthony Burgess in unpublished 1977 article, from Times Literary Supplement, February 24)           “Perhaps more to the point – having become a Moslem in 1930, he [St. John Philby] was by then able to satisfy his appetite for women, at the court of Ibn Saud, with slaves and the concubines of princes.” (John Halperin, in Eminent Georgians, p 145)

“I would answer without the least hesitation: I am a Jew, albeit one without any religion or tradition-related attachments, indelibly marked by the Shoah. Ultimately, I am nothing else.” (Saul Friedländer, quoted by Elaine Feinstein in review of Where Memory Comes and Where Memory Leads, in Times Literary Supplement, February 24)

“Professor Lowi acerbically coined what he called the ‘Law of Succession,’ which holds that each new president enhances the reputation of his predecessors. He also posed a corollary: ‘This is the only certain contribution each president will make.’” (from NYT obituary of Theodore Lowi, March 2)

“The Germans suspect there are English spies everywhere. Yet we have no secret service funds, or at least they are much smaller than any other State, and our spies are the worst and clumsiest in the world.” (King George V, in ‘private letter’, quoted by John Halperin in Eminent Georgians, p 38)

“I can’t stick all these little middle-class Labour wets with their Old London School of Economics tie and their women. Scratch any of these cuties and you find the governess.” (Elizabeth Bowen, according to John Halperin in Eminent Georgians, p 113)

On Volunteering

“One can join the army as a conscript or as a volunteer, and either willingly or reluctantly, but a willing conscript is not a volunteer and a reluctant volunteer is not a conscript.” (John Hyman, in Action, Knowledge and Will, p 84)               “There was a more pressing matter for Bevin to address as 1941 drew to a close – Britain’s crippling lack of manpower. ‘Voluntaryism’ had been the foundation of his policy since the start of the war; the British people were to do the jobs they wanted to do, or were called upon to perform, without compulsion.” (from Roger Hermiston’s All behind You, Winston, p 185)

“I have often said that if I wish to name-drop, I have only to name my ex-friends.” (Norman Podhoretz, quoted in NYT, March 19)

“Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin.” (Allan Meltzer, according to NYT, March 20)

“I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker’s ideas and made the countries prosperous.” (Tep Khunnal, former personal secretary to Pol Pot, quoted in NYT, March 23)

“Meanwhile, you might also snap up a deeply discounted nearly-new car and load it with as much gold as you can afford or the suspension will take, then drive to the Alps, buy a ski apartment in Courchevel or Gstaad, and furnish it with bargain-priced English antiques.” (Martin Vander Weyer, in the Spectator, March 4, 2017)

“Claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence. If one wishes to be accounted innocent, one must find a way to make the claim that one cannot be held morally responsible. This is precisely what the status of victimhood accomplishes.” (Wilfred McClay in The Strange Persistence of Guilt, published in Hedgehog Review, quoted by David Brooks in NYT, March 31)


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